Oral history is one of the valuable conventions of old that should be, and will be, kept alive. It has enabled us to know stuff from way back; even from times before the printed word came along. I mean, how would we know, for example, about Adam & Eve and their remarkable high jinks and adventures with the snake and fig leaves and all, were it not for oral history?
There is another good reason why oral history needs to be kept alive. Some things need telling that you can’t really tell, for fear of hurting the innocent, or making unforgiving enemies of folks that were previously friends. Such can be told generations later without fear of harm, but there’s no pleasure in waiting several generations to tell a hot story, and it seems a shame to let things fade from memory (history) for such flimsy reasons. One can, however, get sued for relating historical fact without proof, especially in written form, so disguising the fact is a safer method of being a good historian, and oral is safer than written, simply because spoken words don’t hang around like written ones.
Here is an example of a tidbit of oral history from way back being converted into written history in safe-mode, meaning disguised to protect the innocent as well as the not-so-innocent and their descendants.
There was a highly respected Main Street gentleman here who held public office. We will call him John. (Not his name) He was quite familiar with spirituous fermenti, and was very fond of it. His wife ran an unrelenting campaign to make him much less familiar with it.
In those days radio was the only broadcast media, and the reception of the commonly owned radio was not very good. Most radios had to be connected to an outside antenna wire – usually just a plain wire leading up the side of the window shutter. Wind might blow the wire down or change its position, which interrupted the reception of the radio waves. Gentleman John had a favorite chair beside a window where the radio antenna exited the house. He enjoyed hearing the evening news sitting there with his radio beside his hand. His ever watchful wife, whom we shall call Elsie, could not understand how he could begin the evening as sober as a judge, and wind up at bedtime staggering, with no visible means of getting soused. Some time later she recalled that he would frequently complain about the “wind blowing the antenna wire down”, and would go outside to “fix” it. And she recalled that the wind might “blow the antenna wire down” again several times in an evening. After a period of weeks, during which she observed this curious phenomenon, and some very fine investigating, she found that he was disconnecting the antenna at the back of the radio, cutting off reception whenever he wanted to. She also found that he kept a bottle of spirits in a hole in the foundation of the house behind the shrubbery right outside the window where he sat. She also found evidence of substantial tippling there in the form of empty bottles and one nearly full one.
Elsie knew it was always dark when John visited his makeshift al fresco bar, and light from the window was not enough to permit him to see clearly, so she poured out the spirits in his absence and refilled the bottle with assorted foul liquids and red hot pepper.
The story goes that after the next trip out to “fix the antenna wire”, John did not return inside for at least an hour, and when he finally returned he had an ashy complexion and wore a confused expression on his face. She never mentioned the matter to him, and he never mentioned it to her. He did, however, become far less familiar with spirituous fermenti.
I picked up this story many years ago from one of the best oral historians this town ever had. I am merely converting it here to written form.
That is my story, and I am sticking to it.